International Relations Canadian Foreign Policy
David Carment, Brandon Jamieson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0280


In an era of instability, upheaval, and change Canada’s place in the world remains uncertain. This is an era of significant geopolitical shifts, nationalism, and identity politics. As a result, the institutions in which Canada has invested significant capital such as trade, political, and security organizations are being tested and stretched to the limit. In essence, Canada’s fate and future is structurally contingent on its relationship with the United States; a relationship that paradoxically is key to enhancing Canadian sovereignty while at the same time having the potential to reduce it. Canada’s foreign policy has been captivated by three or perhaps four ends: the establishment of peace and security through the rule of law, maintaining a harmonious and productive relationship with the United States, and ensuring economic prosperity and competitiveness through trade and investment. To these three core elements we might add enhancing national unity and its corollary strengthening Canadian sovereignty. While these ends remain largely unchanged, where we would find a great deal of variation over time is how various governments envision achieving them. The publications cited in this article examine these emerging issues as well as those grounded in overarching debates about Canada’s place in the world, its relationship to the United States, and the importance of international institutions in advancing Canadian interests and values. While some of the readings may be regarded as definitive and others seminal much of what is identified is intended to provide insights on different ways of thinking about Canada’s foreign policy, who shapes it, and to what end.


Kirton 2006, a foundational work, introduces readers to virtually all aspects of Canadian foreign policy with exceptional depth and detail. Nossal, et al. 2015 approaches the subject with similar breadth as Kirton 2006 but focuses more on the actors, machinery, and influences on Canadian foreign policy in practice. Tomlin, et al. 2008 similarly approaches Canadian foreign policy writ large, but it focuses more heavily on the policy process, making it more suitable for policy-focused audiences. Conversely, Juneau, et al. 2020 constitutes an exceptionally detailed and thorough volume on Canadian defense policy, which caters to readers in defense, security, and strategic studies. Carment and Sands 2019 is a very useful annual volume for its timely and contemporary coverage of topics in Canadian foreign policy. Bratt and Kukucha 2015 offers a similar structure to Carment and Sands 2019 and includes pieces written by a diverse audience on various contemporary issues in Canadian foreign policy. For a thorough assessment of the Harper decade in Canadian foreign policy, Chapnick and Kukucha 2016 provides a thorough narrative of one of the most transformational periods in Canadian foreign policy during the post-9/11 era.

  • Bratt, Duane, and Christopher J. Kukucha, eds. Readings in Canadian Foreign Policy: Classic Debates & New Ideas. 3d ed. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    This unique publication combines a variety of classic essays and contemporary pieces on a broad range of subjects within the field of Canadian foreign policy. Coverage of contemporary issues contrasts well with classical literature on the subject, which provides readers with thoughtful comparisons to identify everlasting themes and trademarks of Canadian foreign policy. This is the latest edition in the series.

  • Carment, David, and Christopher Sands, eds. Canada-US Relations: Sovereignty or Shared Institutions? Canada among Nations. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    This is an annual literary series produced by the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. From 1984 to the present, these annual issues focus on contemporary issues in Canadian foreign policy. These are edited volumes with contributions from academics across the country, making them incredibly rich and diverse resources on virtually all matters in Canadian foreign policy.

  • Chapnick, Adam, and Christopher J. Kukucha, eds. The Harper Era in Canadian Foreign Policy: Parliament, Politics, and Canada’s Global Posture. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2016.

    This edited volume focuses on the decade of foreign policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, offering readers a detailed look at a diverse field of studies on various topics, including trade, defense, security, immigration, and environmentalism. This volume is useful as a historical record of Canadian foreign policy in the post-9/11 era, equipped with thoughtful analyses and commentary from a diverse group of authors.

  • Juneau, Thomas, Philippe Lagassé, and Srdjan Vucetic, eds. Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

    This edited volume provides a very recent assessment of the state of Canadian defense policy. It explores numerous contemporary case studies and does so from diverse viewpoints. Includes analysis on subjects of procurement, strategic culture, gender and diversity, and military cooperation. It summarizes and refreshes a broad field of literature on most matters related to defense policy.

  • Kirton, John. Canadian Foreign Policy in a Changing World. Toronto: Thompson Nelson, 2006.

    This is the keystone text in the subject of Canadian foreign policy. It follows a historical narrative of Canadian foreign policy from the postwar era, including background from earlier through contemporary issues facing the country. It identifies watershed moments in Canadian foreign policy and the reasons behind them, and it discusses their impact on contemporary events.

  • Nossal, Kim Richard, Stephane Roussel, and Stephane Paquin. The Politics of Canadian Foreign Policy. 4th ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.

    This volume takes a broad historical approach to understanding the political forces that shape and drive Canadian foreign policy. By exploring the relationship among global, domestic, and political interests, readers will enjoy a look at the actors and machinery that produces Canadian foreign policy. This fourth edition includes many contemporary case studies from the era of foreign policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

  • Tomlin, Brian, Norman Hillmer, and Fen Osler Hampson. Canada’s International Policies: Agendas, Alternatives and Politics. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    This book takes a policy-focused approach to understanding Canadian foreign policy, including the development process and key considerations for policymakers that explore the rationale of certain decisions. By applying John Kingdon’s multiple streams model to the topics and using the same methodology over different topics, the authors make an important contribution to students and instructors in policy-focused programs.

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